What exactly is a white collar crime?

On Behalf of | Nov 6, 2020 | White Collar Criminal Defense |

A wide variety of specific crimes fall under the heading of white collar crime. All of them, nevertheless, have one thing in common: they have to do with some type of fraud. In other words, if you face charges for a white collar crime, the prosecution alleges that you somehow fraudulently gained possession of someone else’s personal property and then used that property for your own financial gain or possibly the gain of your friends or family members. 

The most commonly prosecuted white collar crimes include the following: 

  • Money laundering 
  • Health care fraud 
  • Identity theft 
  • Embezzlement 
  • Ponzi schemes 
  • Intellectual property theft 

Prosecutions for alleged public corruption or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act violations occur less frequently, but tend to garner considerably more media coverage when they do. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation serves as the primary investigative body for all alleged federal white collar crimes. 

Term’s origin

The reason why white collar crimes go by this name is because a sociologist by the name of Edwin Sutherland coined this term back in the 1930s. His definition of white collar crime was one “committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation.” 

Apparently, the connection between Sutherland’s category name and definition reflected the dress code executives and other highly-placed corporate officials adhered to at the time. They always wore white shirts underneath their their dark 2- or 3-piece suits. Obviously, white shirts had white collars. Although appropriate workplace attire has long since expanded to include almost any type of clothing, the term “white collar crime” stuck and is still with us today.